The dos and don’ts of baby-led weaning

If the thought of pureeing a dozen different foods for your baby makes you want to cry into your blender, why not skip it and offer finger foods right away? Here’s everything you need to know about baby-led weaning…

baby lead weaning eating solids

Pureeing a variety of healthy foods and spoon-feeding them to your baby can be tedious and time-consuming, so a growing number of parents are saying no to mush and allowing their babies to feed themselves nutritious finger foods as soon as they start solids.

Known as baby-led weaning (or BLW), this method has been popular in the U.K. for several years and it’s gaining traction in the U.S.

In this article we will discuss the following topics in detail below.

  • When your baby is ready to baby led wean
  • The pros and cons of baby led weaning
  • The dos and don’ts of baby led weaning
  • The best baby led weaning foods

Here’s what you need to know to get started…

When is Your Baby Ready to Baby Led Wean? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until your baby is six months old to introduce solids. They should be able to sit in a high chair by themselves, have good neck control and be able to grasp objects with their fingers. They also need to have lost their tongue-thrust reflex (which causes them to push objects out of their mouth with their tongue).

What are the Pros and Cons of Baby Led Weaning?

Baby-led weaning has several benefits:

  • It’s less time-consuming than pureeing.
  • It helps develop hand-eye coordination, dexterity and chewing skills.
  • Babies who start solids through BLW tend to be less fussy and eat a wider variety of foods because they’re introduced to different textures and flavors from the start.
  • BLW babies may also be less likely to develop food allergies because research shows that being exposed to allergenic foods such as peanuts and fish early on can have a protective effect against allergies.
  • They’re also less likely to become overweight than spoon-fed babies because they’re in control of how much they eat.

But there are also some downsides:

  • It’s messy! Food will end up all over your baby, the high chair and the floor.
  • It can be hard to know whether BLW babies are getting all the nutrients they need. Breast milk supplies enough iron until a baby is four to six months old, but they need iron from solid food after that. Because iron-rich foods can be hard to chew, you might need to puree some meat or leafy greens for your baby until they can chew them on their own.

The dos and don’ts of baby-led weaning 

Here are some tips for successful baby-led weaning:

  • Continue breastfeeding or bottle feeding as before because babies get most of their nutrition from milk or formula until their first birthday.
  • Protect your baby’s clothes with a big bib and place a splash mat under their high chair to catch spills.
  • Start with soft foods cut into long strips or chunks that your baby can easily grasp. (See suggested foods below.)
  • Start by offering one or two pieces of food at each mealtime and slowly increase the amount to avoid overwhelming your baby. Let your baby decide how much they want to eat without forcing it.
  • Watch for allergic reactions, but there’s no need to withhold certain foods to prevent food allergies.
  • Offer a wide variety of healthy foods that have a range of different colors and textures.
  • Eat as a family so that your baby can see how you do it and try your food (as long as it’s baby-safe). You’ll soon be able to cook only one dinner for the whole family and offer your baby the soft parts.

And here are a few things to avoid:

  • Stay away from foods that can cause choking, such as grapes, cherries, apples with the skin on, raw vegetables, nuts, popcorn and hot dogs.
  • Never leave your child unsupervised while they eat.
  • Try not to panic if your baby gags at first. Gagging is a safety response that allows your baby to dislodge food that’s too hard to swallow. A gagging baby makes a noisy cough-like sound, whereas a choking baby doesn’t make any noise and can’t breathe.
  • Don’t add sugar or salt to your baby’s food.
  • Avoid turning the dining table into a battleground. Don’t pressure your child to eat or scold them. They’ll eventually get the hang of it and increase the amount of food they eat.

 

The best foods for baby-led weaning

You can give your child any food that is soft and cut into graspable pieces. Here are some suggestions from each food group:

  • Fruits: Banana, mango, ripe pear, ripe peach and strawberries.
  • Vegetables: Avocado, steamed broccoli, steamed carrots and steamed beans.
  • Grains: Boiled whole-wheat pasta, puffed cereals and whole-wheat toast with avocado.
  • Protein: Shredded chicken, grilled fish (no bones), scrambled eggs and omelet strips.
  • Dairy: Yogurt and soft pasteurized cheeses.

If your baby doesn’t take to BLW right away or you’re worried about nutritional gaps in their diet, you can try a combination of pureeing and finger foods until your little one is chowing down like a pro.

 

More on Baby Mealtime

Before you get started see our range of the best Baby mealtime picks including bibs, splash mats, suction bowls and plates in our Mealtime Accessories section.

For more information on weaning, from age guidelines to the best first foods and feeding products that will make your life easier, our guide to introducing solids has you covered.